The view from here (in Ireland) of the Greek Crisis, as it is known, has provided a eyeful of drama, to say the least. Now that the prolonged conferences of finance ministers, prime ministers, and news broadcasters has eased off in the welcome calm of a provisional compromise, one thing seems certain. Europe’s economic union is not only less tightly woven than many believed, but in some danger of unraveling – if not entirely, at least significantly. There has been a pretty massive falling off of trust.
Germany has emerged in the view of many commentators (not merely the ordinary Greek citizens who have endured so much deprivation over the summer, but of observers in Germany itself) as the bully of the economic overseers. Rightly or wrongly, Germany’s prime minister, Angela Merkel, has seemingly inherited the mantle of pack leader – rigid, merciless, punitive.
Now the powerhouse of the economic recovery following the banking debacle of the previous decade, Germany appears to be calling the shots for the Eurozone, often to the discomfiture of France, Italy, and Ireland. One of the “PIIGS” in the early days of the economic recovery (which included Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain), Ireland has emerged as economically on the road to stability, despite massive indebtedness (presently the gross national debt is about 200 billion euro, more than 100% of annual GDP). Although now in the hands of fiscally conservative Fine Gael politicians, Ireland has generally been sympathetic to the plight of Greece, although popular sentiment far outstripped the attitude of the majority party. The Irish usually favor the underdog.
The late appearance into the fray on Thursday by the esteemed German philosopher and social critic Jürgen Habermas surfaced what was in the mind of many witnesses to Greece’s humiliation and in his words, punishment. Germany, he said, squandered in one night the gains of more than a generation which sought to overcome the distrust of Europe following World War II. This included, not least of all, the cancellation of Nazi war debt in 1953, which paved the path for German recovery and eventual reunification.
At present, the EU looks more like a bank than a union, even a credit union. The question in the minds of a growing number of critics is whether the EU is still a creditable union.
Ruminating on the plight of the Greek people, who have endured months of enforced “austerity,” dwindling supplies, bank closings, and political uncertainty, what came to mind unbidden was the parable of the Unjust Servant (Matthew 18:23-35). It is probably wide of the mark, but still, one can’t help musing…
“… the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
The story does not end well for the unjust servant: “And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” [RSV ed.]
But then, what did Jesus know about international finance?